More than 300 people attended the West Virginia Manufacturers Association’s Marcellus and Manufacturing Development Conference in Morgantown yesterday. Among the topics discussed–the need for faster approvals of pipelines, and the positive economic of shale on the Mountain State. Among the speakers was new State Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher–who spent most of his career in the private sector. According to Thrasher, “shale gas is the future of economic opportunity in West Virginia.” Thrasher said the industry with the biggest potential for growth in WV is shale energy–and it’s “only begun to emerge.” He urged audience members to get involved and make their voices heard–at the local, state and federal level. We think it’s a fair statement to say that Thrasher rallied the troops and is leading the charge to see more shale energy developed in WV…

State Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher said shale gas is the future of economic opportunity in West Virginia.

Speaking before a crowd of industry professionals at the opening of the West Virginia Manufacturers Association’s Marcellus and Manufacturing Development Conference in Morgantown Wednesday, Thrasher said the state has yet to realize the full potential of shale gas.

After listing some of the state’s numerous economic development projects — including endeavors in the aerospace, automotive and manufacturing industries — Thrasher said the industry with the biggest potential for growth has only begun to emerge.

“Quite frankly, all three things, even collectively, pale in comparison to the opportunities that this shale gas initiative provides,” he said. “It has struck me how incredibly enormous the potential is. It has struck me that it, in and of itself, can completely reinvigorate the state which I love so much.”

For too long, Thrasher said, West Virginia has allowed factors outside the state to determine its economic fate.

“The truth is West Virginia is full of lost opportunities,” he said. “And the truth is we have blamed outside influences for those circumstances for many, many years.”

Thrasher urged conference attendees not to let shale gas become another “lost opportunity.”

“We don’t want to repeat the patterns that we did for the last 100 years,” he said, “where we take those raw materials — whether it’s coal or timber or oil and gas —and we send them somewhere else to be refined and processed and to add value to there.”

To break that pattern, Thrasher said gas industry professionals have to work alongside government officials.

“I would suggest to you that you have a job to do,” he said. “This crowd has the opportunity to really impact. You have the opportunity to impact Legislatures and presidents.”

Thrasher called on audience members to each do their part to ensure the shale gas industry’s continued growth.

“My challenge to everybody that’s hearing this is: Go home and do something to make this really come about.”

Kathy Beckett of the Bridgeport law firm Steptoe & Johnson said Thrasher, who transitioned from the private sector to politics, is uniquely positioned to help the state plan its economic future.

“He’s been a servant in the way that entrepreneurs and innovators are always servants,” Beckett said. “They always take on more, and that’s what’s happened in this instance. Gov. Jim Justice has invited Woody to leave the entrepreneurial, business world and his very successful engineering business to become a public servant to the state of West Virginia. And that is what he has done.” (1)

Another story, this one focused on a pipeline discussion, from yesterday’s conference:

Experts and officials from the oil and gas industry discussed the future of pipeline development in the Mountain State Wednesday, May 3.

The discussion was part of a panel during the West Virginia Manufacturers Association’s annual Marcellus to Manufacturing Development Conference at Waterfront Place Hotel in Morgantown.

Maribeth Anderson, director of government and community relations for Southwestern Energy, moderated the panel discussion.

Since Marcellus drilling operations first began in the state, there has been debate about the most efficient ways to transport natural gas, Anderson said.

“We have this need to find markets, both inside our region and outside the region,” she said. “We have this need for more demand. We also have this need to use the gas here.”

Gas pipelines are the best solution for these problems because they provide “certainty and keep our economic development going,” Anderson said.

Anne Blankenship, executive director of the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association, said there currently are more than 30 pipeline projects in development on the East Coast.

More than 10 are underway in West Virginia, Blankenship said.

“A number of them start or go through Northern West Virginia,” she said.

Bob Orndorff, state policy director for Dominion Transmission, said as the number of total pipeline projects increases, so does the industry’s total output of natural gas.

“We have increased production more than 400 percent from 2008 to 2016,” he said.

The biggest hurdle for the oil and gas industry right now is finding ways to ensure that methods of transportation are able to keep up with production, Orndorff said.

“Now there’s not enough take-away capacity to be able to get that gas out of West Virginia and into emerging markets,” he said.

The lack of means of transporting natural gas has greatly reduced the price producers can sell the commodity for, Orndorff said.

“We can’t get it to market, and it’s really depressed the prices,” he said. “That’s why ultimately we’re setting up the scenario why we need these pipes and we need them desperately.”

Josh Young of the American Chemistry Council said one of the biggest obstacles facing pipeline construction is the complicated array of regulations at every level of government.

“The problem occurs where it might get federal approval, but you still have to get approval from state agencies or local agencies,” he said.

This process has impeded the progress of many pipeline projects, Young said.

“Barely any pipelines are advancing through the approval process in the Northeast, and that has to do with politics,” he said.

Orndorff agreed, saying vacancies on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission have slowed the approval process for pipeline construction.

The FERC needs a quorum of at least three commissioners to give a project approval, Orndorff said. Currently, the commission is operating with just two members.

President Donald Trump has yet to appoint any new members to the commission, Orndorff said.

“We’re really in a pickle, as they say, with what’s taking place with FERC,” he said, “until we get these folks nominated and approved by the Senate.”

Following the panel discussion, Anderson opened the floor to questions from audience members.

The panel discussion was just one of many talks and seminars during the conference. Subjects ranged from ethane storage to industry growth in the region.

According to organizers, more than 300 professionals from the oil and gas industry attended the conference. (2)

(1) Clarksburg (WV) The Exponent-Telegram (May 3, 2017) – Thrasher: Shale gas the future for West Virginia

(2) Clarksburg (WV) The State Journal (May 3, 2017) – State officials, experts discuss pipeline development as part of conference

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